Why credit scores are like grades

The simplest way to understand your credit score is to think back to your school days.

Think back to a time when your performance was measured in letter grades. Basically, having a great credit score is equivalent to being an A student.

Or, for people at the other end of the spectrum, having a low credit score is much like being a C or D student. If you just think about your credit score in terms of the letter grade system, the comparisons are easy.

And, the reality is that your parents or teachers were somewhat right — your grades can determine your future, like the fact that high school grades were a large factor in where you could go to college. Well, just like that, your credit score influences the types of loans you can get, as well as the types of interest rates you'll pay.

But it's important to understand that your credit score (unlike your grades) does not necessarily "go down in your permanent record." Nope, the credit scoring system is much more forgiving! Your credit score is always changing, and you definitely have control over how it will be in the future.

You can't go back and retake Calculus junior year, can you? But let's say your credit score is not exactly perfect — a few late payments on cards, or loans — it doesn't mean lenders will blacklist you for life. If you get your financial house in order, which is often as simple as starting to make regular on-time payments on your credit cards and loans, then over time your score may rebound. While your school transcript will always show that C+ in AP History, your credit score only shows your current creditworthiness. It lets lenders evaluate how much of a risk you are, as well the type of interest rates you'll get, whether for credit cards, a car loan, a personal loan or mortgage.

The system is cyclical: lenders report your payment history to the credit rating agencies (the three major agencies are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion), and they act as a kind of hub, a place where your payment performance is centralized and can be accessed by lenders. This "hub" helps creditors make decisions much faster. Today, with our online capabilities, lenders can approve or deny applications almost instantly. In addition, your credit score is free of biases. It isn't influenced by factors such as race, religion, marital status, or gender. And it's a great system in that your credit score doesn't scar. It isn't permanent. It changes with you and your habits over a lifetime. You know how sometimes you look back at school and think "if only I knew then what I know now?" Well, with your credit score, you can always learn to do it better!

Take the next step: protect your credit and start saving money.

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